Digital Britain: The media industry reaction

BECTU – ‘THE THIN END OF THE WEDGE’

Bectu assistant general secretary Luke Crawley said: “We have always opposed top slicing and it is a mistake to split the licence fee away from the BBC in this way.

“It is the thin end of a very dangerous wedge and future administrations may be unable to resist the temptation to take an ever bigger bite of the cake.

“Local news on Channel 3 could, and should, be funded by levies on other broadcasters such as Virgin and Sky who do not carry any public service obligations.”

FIVE – ‘POLITICAL FUDGE’

Five chief executive Dawn Airey said: “Digital Britain is a disappointment. After six months there is still no deal for Channel 4.

“We fail to see why our proposal which offered financial security and enhanced PSB was rejected out of hand.

“Instead, a political fudge is being proposed. The transparency, accountability, competition and state issues that it raises will be closely monitored by the industry.”

GUARDIAN MEDIA GROUP – ‘A GREAT DEAL OF WORK TO BE DONE’

GMG chief executive Carolyn McCall said: “We’re especially encouraged by the acknowledgement of the negative effects of online aggregators on content creators, and of the need for the BBC Trust to be vigilant in overseeing the expansionary activities of the BBC.

“The government has, for the first time, recognised the hugely important issue of online aggregators’ impact on the provision of quality content, and the need for collective action to address the problem.

“However, there is a long way to go before this will be resolved, and we look forward to engaging with all relevant parties to work towards a fair exchange of value between content providers and aggregators.

“There remain causes for concern. Any joint venture between Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide will need to be subject to close scrutiny and clear limits if it is to avoid damaging plurality in the market.

“Our concern is that whatever entity emerges will seek to expand aggressively online – at the expense of existing commercial players.

“A successful Digital Britain will need successful UK content providers, especially journalistic organisations.

“Today’s paper goes some way towards addressing this, but there’s still a great deal of work to be done to secure the future of quality content in the UK.”

ITV – ‘PLEASED’

“ITV warmly welcomes the Government’s confirmation that the costs of our public service licences exceed the benefits.

“The Digital Britain report contains a number of proposals aimed at redressing this imbalance.

“In particular we are pleased that the Government has endorsed Ofcom’s proposal for the sustainable provision of plurality in nations and regions news using a combination of public funds and ITV1’s schedule.

“Further, the report notes that beyond regional news, the Government recognises that Ofcom may need to adjust ITV’s other public service obligations up to and beyond the completion of digital switchover, in line with the diminishing value of the licences.

“We will now study the report in detail and particularly the Government’s timetable and will give a fuller response later this month.”

NUJ – ‘SLIPPERY SLOPE’

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Top-slicing of the BBC licence fee would undermine the corporation’s independence and put quality broadcasting at risk.

“We agree that funding needs to be found to support news provision outside the BBC, but there are other options that wouldn’t inflict the same damage to the cornerstone of British public service broadcasting.

“Sharing the licence fee with other organisations is the start of a slippery slope towards the politicisation of the BBC. When politicians start to decide how the licence fee is divvied up, the independence and impartiality of the corporation will be put at risk.

“The government has said it will consider other options and that is exactly what it must do. We can’t allow the BBC to become a political football.

“The vital importance of vibrant local media to our democracy has been recognised by people on all sides of the debate over the last few weeks. Media plurality must be at the heart of any ownership decisions that are taken in the future.

“The NUJ will continue to pressure the government for a strengthened public interest test to ensure that ownership rules work in the interests of citizens and communities.”

TRINITY MIRROR – ‘STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION’

Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey said: “The Digital Britain report has recognised a number of the serious issues facing the survival of local media.

“We have consistently argued that a change in primary legislation is not necessary to address these issues, simply that the existing merger regime fully recognises that the old narrow definitions of print markets are no longer fit for purpose. So the Ofcom review process could be a clever answer to a difficult problem.

“Provided that it shortens rather than lengthens the process, Ofcom involvement and the new Local Media Assessment appear to be a step in the right direction.

“Whether it works or not depends on the detail and we look forward to reviewing the OFT’s guidance note.

“Not before time the Audit Commission are to look at the travesty of local councils using tax payers money to masquerade as and compete directly with local newspapers. This must be tackled with a sense of urgency.

“In addition, we are keen to understand the proposed independently-funded news consortia and, as the pilots are expected to take place in our areas of strength, we will continue the exploratory talks we are already having with potential partners.”

CHANNEL 4 – ‘CONSIDERABLE PROGRESS’

Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan said: “Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide have made considerable progress towards agreeing the structure, scope and operation of a substantial joint-venture.

“We share the Government’s view that this partnership can deliver significant value to both parties and, alongside other commercial relationships, should significantly bolster Channel 4’s ability to invest in original British content and maintain our distinctive public service contribution.”

Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson said: “Our ability to deliver our remit in future depends on strengthening and updating our financial model. We welcome the Government’s explicit rejection of a partial privatisation of Channel 4 through a forced commercial merger and the encouragement Digital Britain gives to our discussions about partnership with BBC Worldwide.

“This remains our preferred means of securing more sustainable funding to support our public service delivery and we look forward to confirming with BBC Worldwide in the near future the proposed terms of our partnership.”

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS – ‘UNDERMINING BBC INDEPENDENCE’

Shadow culture secretary Don Foster said: “Maintaining the strength and independence of the BBC is vital. Top slicing – in whatever language – sets a precedent that undermines that independence.

“What guarantees can we have that future governments will not take more money from the licence fee to fund their pet projects, especially when they are unhappy with what the BBC is doing?”

ITN – ‘CRUCIAL SERVICES’

ITN chief executive John Hardie said: “The continued supply of high-quality, impartial regional news is central to a pluralistic environment and today’s proposals set out the mechanisms to ensure viewers retain this much-valued choice of sources and opinions.

“ITN has a key role to play in the new architecture as the nexus of national and regional news provision, working with local media on the ground to provide enriched broadcast and multiplatform content and to ensure a true competitive alternative to the BBC.

“Those who are shielded from commercial realities should not be allowed to delay this funding intervention and risk damage to these crucial services.”

BBC TRUST – ‘WE WILL NOT SIT QUIETLY AND WATCH THIS HAPPEN’

BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons said: “We recognise that there are problems to be addressed and opportunities to be grasped, and we will continue to push for the public’s concerns to be put centre stage in this final consultative phase.

“The Digital Britain report now raises the question of transferring licence fee money from the BBC to other interests, including regional news organisations.

“On behalf of licence fee payers, the BBC Trust opposes top-slicing. The licence fee has a clear aim, clear benefits, is clearly understood and has stood the test of time.

“Top-slicing would damage BBC output, reduce accountability and compromise independence.

“The licence fee must not become a slush fund to be dipped into at will, leading to spiralling demands on licence fee payers to help fund the political or commercial concerns of the day.

“This would lead to the licence fee being seen as another form of general taxation. The Trust will not sit quietly by and watch this happen.

“In particular, the Trust is not convinced of the proposal in the Digital Britain report to apply any of the surplus to fund a second regional news operation.

“There has not yet been a full and open debate about the suggested costs of these services, and it appears that the current proposals have failed to take into account potential sources of commercial funding as well as alternative sources of public funding.”

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